Ineffective disintermediation: Punjab’s agricultural market committees rendered dysfunctional

Offices being used for political purposes by PML-N.

Shamsul Islam August 14, 2011

FAISALABAD: The Punjab government’s policy of centralising government functions in the province has had unexpected consequences for the trade in agricultural commodities in the country’s breadbasket: the market committees – meant to facilitate domestic agricultural trade – have become virtually defunct, their resources it is learnt, are being used for the political purposes of the province’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N).

Under the Punjab Agricultural Products Ordinance, 1978, there are supposed to be 81 market committees across the province that should comprise of members elected by growers, commission agents and a variety of other groups that are part of the agricultural supply chain. The committees in turn are supposed to provide facilities for the sale, storage, weighing, and processing of agricultural commodities.

Yet instead of being staffed by elected representatives, the provincial government has appointed ‘administrators’. While the government is entitled to appoint at least one member to each council, it is not entitled to take control of them entirely, which is what appears to have happened.

Part of the reason may be the lack of elected local governments in the province, which are ordinarily supposed to nominate members to the committees. In the absence of such governments however, the District Coordination Officer (DCO) – one of the senior-most civil servant at the district level – is supposed to nominate persons from each of the categories specified in PAPMO, two for every vacancy.

The Punjab government, however, does not seem to be utilising these market committees, which were created to improve the infrastructure to improve the efficiency of an otherwise grossly inefficient market for agricultural products in the country.

Instead, the offices and facilities of the market committees are being used in some areas as party offices for the ruling PML-N, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Meanwhile, the job of ‘administrators’ appear to have been given to people who do not meet the qualification criteria set out in the market committees’ governing laws. Sources allege that the PML-N has made appointments as political favours to connected individuals rather than people who could help create more efficient markets for food.

At a time of chronic food inflation – the Federal Bureau of Statistics says that prices of food have shot up 94% in the last four years – the need for a mechanism that disintermediates the multiple layers between the farm and the fork is critical. Yet the Punjab government, despite having created the institution to serve this function, does not appear to be utilising it.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2011.

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